Last week Weight Watchers announced the launch of a new program providing free membership for teens 13 to 17 years old. Although the bullet points below are few, there are many adverse health effects on teens.
Between the age of 13 to 17 is when teens go through rapid growth.
Dieting as a teen may lead to inadequate nutrition. The focus should be on getting adequate nutrition not on restriction. This is not the time to put the body on a diet.
We need to stop seeing healthy weight gain during puberty as wrong.
Weight Watchers providing programs to teens reinforces the notion that weight gain over puberty is unhealthy and as something needing to be ‘fixed.’
Dieting in their teens can lead to adverse health effects later in life.
Dieting during teen years can lead to adverse health effects later in life. Recently, a study showed that dieting during teen/young adult years increased the risk of premature menopause, which is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and cognitive decline.
Dieting reinforces the notion that ‘thinner is healthier,’ ‘thinner is more beautiful.’ That ‘thinner is always better.’
Women who are healthy feel pressured to be thin or thinner, leading to unhealthy habits and may escalate to disordered eating and eating disorders.
Dieting distorts feelings of hunger and fullness leading to bouts of undereating and overeating and often culminating in disordered eating and binge eating.
Yo-yo dieting or long standing eating disorders are often from starting diets such as Weight Watchers as a young adult.
Dieting exacerbates a poor body dissatisfaction and feelings of confusion, anxiety and depression.
Mixed with peer pressure, the affect on teens is likely to be amplified.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing
Parents and carers mean well for their teens, however, marketing uses language that teens (and their parents) want to hear. Weight Watchers claims this program will promote “the development of healthy habits at a critical life stage.” This is ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ – a diet, masquerading as healthy eating. Any eating plan/program that focuses on calorie restriction and / or weight loss, is actually a diet.
Diets are dis-empowering.
Diets are intentionally designed to work on people’s vulnerably, insecurities and desire to conform through false hopes. On the other hand, successful lifestyle choices (such as intuitive eating and movement) are empowering.
The focus is always on weight.
They’re not called Weight Watchers for no reason! Weight loss is not necessarily an indication of improved health. Weight loss does not necessarily imply improved health. Healthy eating habits are important, and promoting wellness in people of all ages and body shapes is a wiser goal.
It is sad that marketing has convinced people that being healthy is about counting points, weigh-ins, and exercise to burn off ‘bad foods.’ The saddest is the promise that dieting will give them the body they want. Yes, there are teens with poor eating habits. But Weight Watchers is not the solution for them. Yes, there are teens who THINK they are overweight, need to diet, to change their body, be thinner to be happier. And Weight Watchers is definitely not for them. So, which teen would benefit from Weight Watchers? I can’t think of any.
A word to the wise
As a parent:
- listen to your teen’s concerns about food and their body and discourage them from going on ANY diet which restricts food for the purpose of weight loss
- be a good role model with regards to enjoying a variety of food and participating in movement that you enjoy
- using language which reflects fear, hate or shame is not a good motivator for changing your teen’s habits. Language that is confident, accepting and encouraging is a better motivator for helping them to make healthier habits.
If you need further help to support your teen with food choices, eating habits or weight issues, please seek professional support.